Avian metaphors of freedom

The clearest examples of freedom are seen in movements of wild birds. Hatched into a world of hunger and threats and equipped with fragile bodies and small brains, these creatures perform prodigious feats of flight, foraging, flocking, preening, song, contesting for territory and mates, nest building, egg-brooding and chick-rearing. Primitive but rich repertoires of freedom in the bird have an agile integrity that our own practiced and institutionalized freedoms often lack. Technologies of movement and freedom can look to birds for goals of constructions and models.

Poets have also identified birds with freedom. Avian metaphors express our own longings.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, "To a Skylark"

       In the golden lightning
            Of the sunken sun,
       O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
            Thou dost float and run;
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

       The pale purple even
            Melts around thy flight;
       Like a star of Heaven,
            In the broad day-light
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight.

. . .

       We look before and after,
            And pine for what is not:
       Our sincerest laughter
            With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

. . .

       Teach me half the gladness
            That thy brain must know,
       Such harmonious madness
            From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, "The Windhover"

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
    dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Maya Angelou, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings"

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

George William Russell, "Freedom"

I love the free in thee, my bird,
The lure of freedom drew;
The light you fly toward, my bird,
I fly with thee unto.

Emily Dickinson

"Hope" is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

John Lennon / Paul Mccartney, "Blackbird"

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night


Copyright © 2015 Robert Kovsky
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